Saturday Night: The Pogues at Pompano Beach Amphitheater
Better Than: Having to hear about it after the fact
Saturday night's concert by the Pogues at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre marked the first-ever South Florida appearance by the band, since its inception in 1982. Judging by the audience's gently boozy, ecstatic reaction and the musician's clear enjoyment and easte onstage, they were about 27 years overdue.
The beginning of the evening, though, was deceptively staid. The opening act, the upstate New York quintet Kiss Kiss, took the outdoor stage at a relatively early 8 p.m., and to a scant 50 people, perhaps. To their credit, these twentysomethigns played with unmitigated excitement, clearly thrilled just to be playing together. The members met as students at SUNY purchase, and there's an almost academic approach to their layered, slightly orchestral indie rock.
Rebecca Slapisch's electric violin and frontman Josh Benash's keyboards weave in and out of the rock chords, in minor-key threads that add a what-comes-next drama to the songs. However, Benash's vocal trills can be distracting -- they sound somewhere between the weird warblings of Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and the throaty elisions of Kayo Dot's Toby Driver. His voice, in its unaffected, natural state, is perfectly adequate, and the songs themselves present enough twists and turns to keep listeners engaged
But where were all those listeners? Drinking in the parking lot, perhaps, because shortly before the Pogues were set to take the stage, a rather live crowd suddenly outdoor amphitheater. With a clear sky, a sharply cool wind, and an up-for-it audience, it seemed the perfect atmosphere for these original Irish rockers. The band took the stage to the Clash's "Straight to Hell." It was an interesting choice -- that band's late frontman, Joe Strummer, enjoyed a long friendship with the Pogues, even filling in as their vocalist after the original, Shane MacGowan, left the band in 1991.
The bandmates looked dapper, in skinny tonic suits or in oxford shits and suspenders. MacGowan, of course, entered last, and looking the coolest -- just a plain, all-black ensemble and large black shades. "This whole place is like one big, wet pussy!" he exclaimed. And with that, the band launched into a nearly hour-and-a-half-long set whose selections spanned the best years of the band's career.
MacGowan, really, is lovably out of his mind. When he was intelligible, he was unexpectedly funny, although it could be unclear whether intentionally or not. "Aren't we in Louisiana?" he asked band co-founder Peter "Spider" Stacy at one point. Spider just laughed. "Uh...." MacGowan mumbled, "...les bon temps ... rouler!" Spider corrected him -- no, he wasn't in Louisiana. There was a pause. And thus MacGowan retorted, "Hola!"
His voice, never having been traditionally "good," remains intact with its trademark rasp. Its hold on melody is ragged, but swollen with a distinct bittersweet emotion. It remains as singularly affecting and rousing as it sounds on the band's classic albums.
And still, the show managed to really be about the Pogues, rather than just turning into the Shane MacGowan show. There was a visibly easy, friendly back-and-forth between the players, who were each able to grab moments to shine with new solos or variations on the old classics. MacGowan even exited the stage entirely at one point, letting Spider, with his tin whistle, lead an instrumental tune.
And while the musicians have had some eight years of renewed practice with the old songs since the band reformed, they never seemed bored. The playing was flawless, and a boisterous crowd packing the amphitheater's front rows seem to draw them out even further. A couple stray fans even managed to breach the stage near the end of the concert (before, of course, being duly yanked off by security). And the long set, it seemed, wasn't long enough -- the crowd managed to coax the band back for not one encore (expected), but two. Anybody who missed it, well, let's hope it doesn't take the band another 27 years to come back.
Personal Bias: I'm not usually otherwise a fan of traditional Irish sounds in rock, but the Pogues' musicianship and force of expression has always occupied its own class.
Random Detail:: Football scarves and replica tops, oh my!
By the Way: Not only was this show the band's first in South Florida, but it marked the first night of the band's current short U.S. tour. The Pogues roll through Atlanta tonight, before hitting New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
-"Streams of Whiskey"
-"Four O'Clock In the Morning"
-"A Rainy Night in Soho"
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